Monday, February 22, 2016

A (late) Valentine to those who work in a school

I have been undercover (ha!) at my child's old school these past few years and boy do I have an expose to write for you!
First, the ha! was because I am probably the worst at being undercover. I didn't exactly have what you'd call a low profile at the school before I started my first long-term sub gig last year. I was PTA president then, so most teachers knew at least my name if not me personally. Plus, my child was then in 5th grade, so we had already worked out way through the grades and the teachers at that point.

This year my child is no longer at the school, but our hearts and his mother still are there. I have the privilege to be a long-term sub again this year, and what I have learned on this new 'undercover assignment' has solidified everything I knew and thought I knew before.

We all say and think that our teachers and staff members care for our children. I'm not sure though if I even knew how much. When I used to go to lunch when working in corporate America, I am certain that we did not bring very much work talk with us. I guarantee that any break-time was not spent talking about our concern for our clients. (Apologies to any ex-boss or client who might be reading this!)
When a teacher has a brief break or lunch time they are talking about their little clients. They share stories of triumphs and defeats that the day or week has brought them. They are asking for advice from other educators or are listening to each other and offering their own words of wisdom or just a knowing nod. Don't get me wrong, they do spend time talking about their own lives, but it is so evident that their lives include those kids, your kids. When a teacher calls their classroom a family they are not using that word lightly, and neither are your kids. More than once I have heard a child talk about their fellow classmates as they would a sibling or a cousin.

Onto staff members...this includes administration, support staff, and everyone who makes your child's life that much easier on a daily basis. These folks also care for and about your children. When your child is greeted by a security officer yelling "What day is it?" on a Wednesday, well he is doing it to get them going and to brighten their day. All this before they even walk into the building. Then they walk into the building and are greeted every single morning with smiles and hellos. These people are happy to see your children, they are happy that your child is there. When he or she isn't they also worry about them. They worry about you and your families too.

I have seen teachers, administrators, even a security guard in tears over a child and the pain, emotional or physical, that a they are going through.  On a personal level, I had a now-retired guard grab me with tears in his eyes and ask about my own kid during our afore-mentioned "worst year ever". He took it personal that he had not seen or stopped any of the teasing and bullying. He told me that he loved my son, and I have no doubt that he truly did.

I have heard administrators from more than one school talk about losing sleep over a certain child, or more than one. While we may see them as the head of the school, often times they are also the heart. Never take their abruptness in the hallway as a snub as they are more than likely already thinking about the next child or parent they have to meet with, and how to help a certain situation.

So this may seem like a giant brown-nosing post, but it is not. It is instead a reminder to us all that we have a community standing behind our children every single day, even weekends. It is a reminder that this community is one made up of love, discipline, and education. People who care about our children as they would their own. People who lose these kids year after year to kids being promoted up and out of their school. I hope that they know that they will always have a place in their hearts. I know that even at my 'advanced age' I can still name so many teachers who made me who I am today.

So the next time we grumble about this appreciation day or that appreciation week, (remember I was PTA president so I know first-hand of the grumbles), that these people deserve every ounce of appreciation on not only those assigned days, but all the days of the school year.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Worst Year of my Life, or How I Failed My Child

Yesterday I told part of my story of my child's worst year of his life and I was reminded that I have always intended to write about it. So, here we go.

When my child was in fourth grade he would come home and tell me he was being bullied. The things that he was initially telling me did not seem like bullying, but rather just kids being kids. Jerks yes, but still age appropriate kid crap. I told him that he needed to talk to his teacher and that I would also talk with the teacher. She assured me that there was nothing extraordinary going on, and that the kids were working it out amongst themselves. I left the conference feeling much better and resolving to not be "that mom" and to let my son work through some of these things himself.

He started coming home from school in worse and worse moods. He constantly complained of stomach aches, headaches, and was throwing up almost every morning before school. I was still trusting an adult more than my own child and would give him advice on how to handle these kids. He would assure me that he had told the teacher about what was going on and I'm ashamed to admit that I told him to toughen up. You guys, I even bought him a book of Aesops Fables so that he could read the story of The Boy who Cried Wolf as a way of explaining to him that constantly tattling could have not so great reprocussions.

Then the story broke wide open. I was up at the school volunteering and the counselor grabbed me into her office and let me know that my child was indeed being bullied and was the target of a particularly malicious campaign. I won't go into specifics here because that is his story. I can only tell you my story and how I as a parent was affected, am still affected.

I cried. Oh I cried and cried for months. I cried myself to sleep, I woke up and cried in the shower. I
berated myself for not listening to him, for not picking up on his physical symptoms of pain and
emotions. I was angry, I was hurt, I felt worthless as a parent, I felt worthless as an adult.
I also put on my big girl panties and took care of business at school for my child. The administration took care of things in a very swift and effective manner, but they couldn't take care of my failings and feelings as a parent.

This story is awful, but that is not what we concentrate on now. I learned a lot about my child, myself, and other people through this experience. This is what I want to share with you now. Beautiful things can come from horrible situations and these are the things we look at now.

The story was brought to the attention of another 4th grade teacher by one of my son's friends. She listened to what he said and immediately sprang into action and alerted the counselors and administration. I am forever in her debt for not just brushing her student aside and writing it off as kids being kids. I love her to this day for this.

The students, when interviewed apparently named names faster than a jailhouse snitch looking for an early pardon. There were kids who continued to give my son crap, but there were more who came to his side. He had a friend who came home and told his mom what was going on and asked her permission to "kick the butts of anyone who bothered his friend". She reached out to me and invited my son over that afternoon so that he could see the power of friendship and see what real friendship is all about. I love her for this to this day.

Another wonderful fourth grade teacher stopped me in the hallway and just grabbed me and hugged me. She whispered in my ear that her kids told her what was going on and that THEY asked if my son could join their class, their family so that they could have his back. There I was in that hallway, me a non-hugger, in the wonderful embrace of another woman who was offering to help save my child. I love her for this to this day.

She did not have room in her class at that time, but she assured me that she wanted that too.
I want that to sink in a little for you. A group of fourth graders asked if they could welcome another
child into their classroom family.

It worked out within the next few weeks that my son as able to move into her class and he opened up again. I had my child back. I saw my beautiful, vulnerable child happy again for the first time that year. I never knew how much I missed him until I had him back. He flourished in this classroom and blossomed again under the guidance and in the love of this class and their wonderful teacher. Words cannot ever explain the debt that I feel I owe her and all those kids who had his back for the remainder of his time at school.

Another wonderful thing happened from this experience. I found out later who the child was that brought the entire story out into the open. I had been told that this particular child was diagnosed with
Aspergers and that for him to bring the situation to his teacher was highly unusual.

I was at my child's basketball game one Saturday when I saw his mother in the stands behind me. I introduced myself to her and told her what her son had done for my child. She looked at me with amazement and began to cry. She hugged me and told me that he had never shown such empathy for another person before and had not ever put himself 'out there' like this for another person. We sat in the stands and cried together for our children, our little heroes. I love her for this to this day.

Another big lesson was learned in our house through this whole ordeal. My child learned that his parents can make mistakes. He also learned that his parents can own up to mistakes and learn from them. He and I sat on the couch together one afternoon and he finally saw me cry. Before now all that crying I did was in private, but now he saw. He also got to hear the most heart-felt apology I have probably ever said to another human being. He got to see that we are all fallible, but that it's how we react and what we do next that is the measure of a person.

So there it is, my worst year and biggest failing as a parent. We all have these moments be them big or small. I learned more that year about love, about human nature, about life in general than I had in most of the years before this one. I have my heroes from that year and I have my villains. I am happy to say that the heroes far outweigh the villains and that love truly conquered hate.